Wednesday, 14 January 2015

We too are Human: Terrorism, Media and Africa’s 'Othering' of Self.

By Takura Zhangazha*

In reading reactions to the differences of media coverage/global outrage at the terrorist attacks in Paris and  those which occurred in the north eastern Nigerian town of Baga, one is struck by two feelings. One of deja vu and the other of complicity in the very fact of being the African ‘other’.  And there have been many articles/blogs that have picked up on these feelings. Deja vu in the sense that some writers have chosen to correctly argue that in a world that claims universal equality of human beings, sadly, some human tragedies are less important. Especially if they occur in Africa or the Orient. Or at least less deserving of coverage by international media. 

'Complicity' because in other instances journalists have cited the inaccessibility of the area(s) in which such atrocities occur in Africa and how getting to them is unsafe or geographically difficult.  Or alternatively that the governments, in this case that of Nigeria, is vague and evasive about events as they occur. Particularly where these events put them in a bad light when reported. 

What however emerges within these objectively justifiable narratives is the ‘othering’ of the African as was the case in colonial times.  Both by the West and Africans albeit for different reasons.  

With the West and its 'global' media its appears that there are limits to universality based on place of origin/occurrence and source of news.  This is entirely understandable if one looks at the current business models of the media, which exude not only values specific to countries of origin but also project the same as  the best on the globe largely due to competition for these already lucrative news markets. 

And where 'outsiders'  ask genuine questions such as ‘what about us?’, the answer may be polite but its subaltern will be ‘start your own media, do your own technologies, tell your own stories’.  Even if pragmatically the ‘others’ do not have either access to satellite media technology let alone control of the editorial intentions covered by the same. 

These hidden answers are the sum total of where global representation and recognition of the other now reside. It is almost a given mantra that if you do not recognize yourselves as you deem fit, we have no business filling the void. Or if you attempt to recognise yourselves outside of our own image, again, we have no business recognizing you in the manner that you prefer.  

Hence despite our progressive historical struggles against imperialism in its varying forms, our leaders and innovators winning global awards, the mainstream western opinion/media will always view us, in the final analysis, as the ‘Caliban’ other. 

The striking irony however is that the somewhat angry, somewhat resigned  responses from Africans or Africanists expected equal if not much more apparent recognition from a hegemonic system that has the belittling of things African as its raison d’être. Even if with the best of intentions.  

That we can in any way assume the global media will cover us in a manner akin to those of of global centers of power is not only futile but to misunderstand the continued struggles for recognition as equals to the Western citizen. Mainly because it is not our media neither is it global beyond geographic reach. (Even if we were all to get onto Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc)

Our yearning for this equality, at least via qualitative representation on global platforms is with merit but it is always going to be shown to be impossible  in times where the West is in gripped by its own crises. Or in times where it matters the most to us. 

So to clamour for equal if not better qualitative recognition in the Western media  is to fall into the trap of being ‘othered’. It is also to misunderstand the global legacy of colonialism in relation to representation and recognition.  This being the equivalent of asking someone else to go public with your problem before you have adequately explained it to yourself.   

It would appear that our fault, including that of our leaders, is to want this global recognition or the telling of our tragic stories merely for the sake of it.  Almost as though our issues become issues once they appear on CNN, Al Jazeera or the BBC.

And there is a difference between this and asking for solidarity as was the case with #BringBackOurGirls.  Or with the tremendous work being done by Amnesty International, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders in helping bring to global attention various crises from Ebola through to human rights violations in various parts of Africa. In the case of the terrorism in Nigeria, we wanted it reported with as much fervor yet the reality is that it is viewed as external to the West, and therefore not nearly as significant.

So we have to contend with a global hegemony that will not change easily, even after all the anger has subsided.  Especially because it is not our, let alone a truly global media. It is  firmly grounded in its own values and place of origin. So unless we develop our own media to be organic and intrinsic to our beings as global equals, even though we are African, we will always play second or even third fiddle.

It could all end if we had a continental satellite, African owned and controlled satellite television news stations and an organic appreciation that we too, Africans, are human.

 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity(